By WES NAKAMA
Stephens Media Hawaii
HONOLULU — The University of Hawaii football program signed 24 players to National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, but the one it did not sign drew much of the attention.
Punahou quarterback Larry “Tui” Tuileta, who reportedly had made a verbal commitment to UH early last year, decided instead to accept a walk-on invitation to Southern California.
“In the end, I had an opportunity that I had to explore, it basically came down to deciding between two really great programs,” Tuileta told Jai Cunningham of “Wake Up 2day” in a live interview Wednesday morning. “I talked it over with my family, and this is the way we decided to go … Throughout this whole process, we were open to all our options. Of course I had a lot of friends going to the University of Hawaii, and they (have) a great coaching staff. But in the end when I explored what I wanted to do, I discussed it over with my parents, and we made a decision. This is what we wanted to do.”
Tuileta, who also has been a national-caliber volleyball player, had committed to play both sports at Hawaii. He said he plans to do the same at USC.
The Rainbow Warriors did sign 24 recruits, including Kealakehe offensive lineman Tui Eli and six other prospects from Hawaii. The other six are Mililani linebacker Dayton Furuta, Kamehameha defensive lineman Ka‘au Gifford, Moanalua receiver Donald Lambert, Saint Louis receiver Devan Stubblefield, Punahou tight end Dakota Torres and Farrington defensive back Manly Williams.
“I thought we did a terrific job with local recruiting,” Rainbow Warriors coach Norm Chow said in a school statement. “We were able to secure most of the ones we targeted this year, and we feel we got some good ones.”
The list of 24 includes transfers Jeremy Castro (UCLA) and Quinton Pedroza (Utah), who sat out last season, and mid-year transfers Luke Shawley (San Diego Mesa Junior College) and Tui Unga (Rancho Cucamonga High School); all four of them are already enrolled at UH.
Sixteen of the 24 signees play defense.
“We feel really good about this class,” Chow said. “For the first time since I’ve been here, we were able to recruit to specific needs which was primarily on the defensive side of the ball — rush end, linebackers and corners. We felt we are really young offensively so we targeted the defense in this class, given the guys we lost last year.”
PAIR OF RAINBOW WARRIOR HOOPS SHOWDOWNS: The UH men’s basketball team continues its four-game homestand with Big West Conference showdowns against UC Santa Barbara on Thursday and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Saturday.
The Rainbow Warriors (15-6, 4-3) are coming off a solid 77-63 victory over Cal State Northridge last Saturday. UC Santa Barbara (14-6, 5-2) is coming off an 82-67 victory over UC Davis and is in a three-way tie for first place with Long Beach State and UC Irvine.
UCSB features one of the league’s top players in 6-foot-7 junior post Alan Williams, who scored 24 points, grabbed 20 rebounds and dished out four assists in the win over UC Davis and posted 26 points and 10 rebounds in an 80-60 victory over UC Irvine two nights before that. For his efforts, Williams was named Big West Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time this season.
Both UH games tip off at 7 p.m. and will be televised live statewide on OCSports.
RAINBOW WAHINE CONTINUE ON ROAD: The UH women’s basketball team, meanwhile, still has two more games to complete its four-game road trip.
The Rainbow Wahine (10-9, 4-3 Big West) play at UC Santa Barbara (6-14, 1-6) on Thursday and at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (13-8, 7-1) on Saturday. Cal Poly SLO is atop the Big West standings and came from behind to beat Hawaii, 78-74, in overtime at the Stan Sheriff Center on Jan. 8.
The Rainbow Wahine lost both of their road games last week, 74-72, at Long Beach State on Jan. 30 and 75-72 in overtime at Cal State Northridge on Saturday.
UCSB is coming off an 82-70 loss at UC Davis and Cal Poly SLO just defeated UC Irvine on Saturday, 84-79.
SOFTBALL TEAM OPENS SEASON: The UH softball team opens its season Thursday against Hampton in the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic at the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Hawaii will face Delaware and No. 13-ranked UCLA on Friday, with championship and losers bracket games scheduled for Saturday.
The Rainbow Wahine return six starters from last year’s team that won the Big West championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, including all-conference second baseman Jazmine Zamora, who led the team with a .337 batting average.
Sophomores Loie Kesterson and Keiki Carlos return to help a pitching staff that includes freshmen Heather Morales and Brittany Hitchcock. Carlos starts in right field and will be used as a relief pitcher.